Inside The White Chip: Your Brain on Booze

April 12th, 2018 / Posted in CitySpeaks, Home Page Latest News, White Chip

by Clare Drobot, Director of New Play Development
and Sean Daniels, Playwright

What exactly does alcohol do to your brain?


If you are one of the approximately 15 million adults in the US affected by alcohol use disorder (or AUD) then you may be all too familiar with its particular brand of chemistry.

In fact, alcohol directly interacts with several neural pathways in our brains by stimulating the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and inhibiting glutamate. This combination can cause a calming effect, ostensibly easing tension, encouraging drinkers to reach for a glass to achieve that perfect buzz.

In addition, drinking stimulates production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is like the brain’s doggie treat, a chemical positive reinforcement that produces a feeling of euphoria.

The White Chip Julie Dubiner

Illustration by Julie Felise Dubiner.

Consuming alcohol has a direct physiological effect on our bodies and when the alcohol leaves your blood stream, it also leaves you wanting more (commonly referred to as a hangover). The chemical desire to continue drinking is so strong that an estimated 88,000 people will die from alcohol related causes each year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.


From left to right: Daniel Krell (#2), Kyle Cameron (Sean), and Daina Michelle Griffith (#1) in THE WHITE CHIP at City Theatre. Photo taken by Kristi Jan Hoover.

The White Chip follows Sean Daniels’ journey to recovery chronicling from first sip to last. But the temptation to revisit fond memories of drinking’s good times lingers.

Not to worry! Sean has provided a list of helpful tactics (absolutely not referenced in the play’s script) to continue enjoying parties and social situations sans adult beverages.

Sean’s General Tips for Staying Sober at Parties

  1. Don’t drink. Perhaps this seems silly, but every relapse started with, “I’ll have just one.”
  2. At parties/bars, go immediately to the bar, and get a non-alcoholic drink that you can hold in your hand. No one offers you a drink when you have one, and honestly, no one is actually paying attention to WHAT you are drinking. Second tip: arrive late, leave early.
  3. You probably used to buy people a ton of drinks. You are still free to buy people drinks. In fact, when you go out, buy the first round – this way no one even knows you’re not drinking, and who doesn’t love the guy that buys the first round? That guy is terrific.
  4. Always have a way out. Know you can leave the party at any moment. Don’t get rides with people that are likely to make you stay hours after you want to go. You’ll end up drinking or stress eating all the cheese.
  5. Only go to bars when you have a reason to go there. Not for a place to work alone, not to get dinner. You’re doing well, but you’re not made of stone.
  6. When do you tell people you don’t drink anymore? It is completely up to you. I have found that people don’t care as much as you think they do. I have several stories of people telling me, “Oh I’m so glad you’re sober, I’ve been sober for 10 years,” and then I say, “How is that possible? We partied together for three days in Seattle a few years ago,” and they say, “No, you partied for three days in Seattle, I was just along having a good time.”
  7. You might think you’re pretty smart – actually you probably are – know that we bury the smart ones all the time.
  8. Remember science. One drink sets off a chemical reaction that may be out of your control and rob you of getting enough dopamine for days.
  9. Remember that you can have it all back. Everything you lost. You may not have the SAME of what you had before, but you can have it back. A job, a relationship, a family. You can have it all back, maybe even more. You just have to follow rule 1: Don’t Drink.
  10. More will be revealed.


Learn more about Sean’s journey on the road to recovery in The White Chip at City Theatre, now through April 6th. Tickets are available here!